Amid all of the news and speculation surrounding the future of the H1B visa program, the results of this year’s lottery are already in. For the 85,000 visas available, (20,000 for Master’s Degree holders) the USCIS reported that 199,000 petitions were received, 37,000 fewre than the previous lottery season.
This is the first decline in petitions in five years, and the first time since 2014 that the overall number of petitions fell below 200,000.
Immigration Experts Surprised by the Drop In Applications
This news was something of a surprise for those involved in the immigration field, and there are some possible explanations for the drop:
- Large IT outsourcing firms decided to file fewer applications, thinking that President Trump’s tough rhetoric on the H1B program would have changed this year’s lottery system. Although this year’s lottery and criteria are the same, there was a great deal of talk about imminent reform that may have made the investment in the lottery less appealing.
- Some foreign workers in their own country may have decided to skip applying for a US position given the uncertainty about the future of the program, and inclusion of spouses and children.
- Indian IT firms decided to forego submitting petitions for entry level or less experienced workers, and instead chose to hire them right in India. This may have been due to the fact that those positions are the very ones targeted by various H1B visa reform bills currently before Congress.
The 2018 Lottery Cap Met in Just Five Days
Despite the decrease in petitions, the lottery cap of 85,000 was met in just five days, with all unselected petitions returned along with the filing fees. Although it seems like business as usual for this year’s H1B visa program, there are a few factors to be aware of if yours was one of the lucky petitions selected in the lottery.
- Premium processing which shortens the review period to 14 days was suspended right before the lottery began. What this means is that all petitions will be reviewed within the normal 2-4 month time frame, and applicants will need to monitor the results online.
- The executive order on H1B visas and related announcements will increase scrutiny of this year’s petitions under review. Applicants and sponsors should be prepared for additional information requests that confirm educational degree, the match of the position and declared specialty occupation and all relevant work experience.
- Anyone denied a visa in the lottery can still look for a cap-exempt position at any time this year, and submit a petition. This avenue to an H1B visa position is more attractive than ever, given the likely changes to the overall system in future years.
Was This Year the Last H1B Visa Lottery?
A question on everyone’s mind is whether this year was the last time that H1B visas will be awarded via a random lottery system. The stated intention is to shift the program to a merit based system, and away from the prior method which favored companies with the resources to submit thousands of petitions in the lottery.
A wholesale change to the H1B visa program would require a new law from Congress, but in the meantime the agencies charged with visa review and approval have been told to crack down on abuse and to reject applicants with little work experience to offer. So, in other words, the merit-based system is already in play for those who have ‘won’ in this year’s lottery, as that was just the first step. They still need federal agency approval, and that will be several months off for most applicants.
- June 11th, 2017